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Cosmic Space

The long goodbye begins for iconic radio dish

The radio telescope at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory is on its way to extinction after 57 years of sparking dreams of alien contact — and after a grim three years of weathering nature’s blows.

Two of the cables supporting the telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform have slipped loose, ripping through the 1,000-foot-wide web of aluminum panels and steel cables that’s spread 450 feet below.

Engineers assessed the damage and determined that the risk of a catastrophic failure was too great to attempt repairs. If more cables snap, the entire platform could crash down, potentially causing the dish’s collapse and life-threatening injuries to workers.

“Although it saddens us to make this recommendation, we believe the structure should be demolished in a controlled way as soon as pragmatically possible, ” Thornton Tomasetti, the engineering firm that made the structural assessment, said in its recommendations to the National Science Foundation and the University of Central Florida, which manages operations at Arecibo on the NSF’s behalf.

“It is therefore our recommendation to expeditiously plan for decommissioning of the observatory and execute a controlled demolition of the telescope,” the firm said.

After consulting with other engineering firms and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NSF decided to go ahead with the decommissioning.

“NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement.

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GeekWire

Arecibo makes plans for new message to aliens

Arecibo Message
A global contest will give the 1974 Arecibo Message a reboot. (Arecibo Observatory Illustration)

The Arecibo Observatory today kicked off a student-focused competition to design a new message to beam to extraterrestrials, 44 years to the day since the first deliberate message was sent out from Arecibo’s 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope.

“Our society and our technology have changed a lot since 1974,” Francisco Cordova, the observatory’s director, said in a news release. “So if we were assembling our message today, what would it say? What would it look like? What one would need to learn to be able to design the right updated message from the earthlings? Those are the questions we are posing to young people around the world through the New Arecibo Message – the global challenge.”

It’s not just about the message, however: Competitors will have to solve brain-teasing puzzles posted on Arecibo’s website in order to qualify, get instructions, register and submit their designs. Along the way, they’ll learn about space science, the scientific method and Arecibo’s story.

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GeekWire

New team takes charge of Arecibo radio telescope

Arecibo Observatory
The Arecibo Observatory has a 1,000-foot-wide radio dish built into Puerto Rico’s karst terrain. (NAIC Arecibo Observatory / NSF Photo)

The 1,000-foot Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, made famous by such movies as “Contact” and the James Bond thriller “Goldeneye,” will be under new management.

Today the National Science Foundation announced that the University of Central Florida has begun the transition process for taking on operation and management of the observatory. “NSF is currently negotiating the operations and management award with UCF,” the federal agency said in a statement.

The handover is aimed at reducing the federal outlay for the Arecibo Observatory, which has been struggling with squeezed budgets in recent years.

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